11/15/16

Genealogies in Genesis

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© sylverarts | 123rf.com

One of the fundamental issues in the dispute over a Biblical understanding of the age of the earth is how the genealogies in Genesis should be interpreted. Bishop Ussher’s chronology dated the creation of the heavens and earth in Genesis 1:1 to a very specific date in 4004 BCE. Editions of the King James translation of the Bible (KJV) began to disseminate his chronology in the 1650s. Then beginning in 1701, William Lloyd’s annotated edition of the KJV included Ussher’s chronology within marginal annotations and cross-references. The popular Scofield Reference Bible (1909/1917) also used it, which helped establish Ussher’s chronology as one of the key theological pillars of modern young earth creation belief.

Intriguingly, Ussher appears to have done his work in the midst of a dispute over biblical chronology in his time. According to The Oxford Handbook of the Bible in Modern England, c. 1530-1700, Robert Carey believed that errors in standard accounts of biblical history, relying on the apparent chronology of the Hebrew text, had provided the opportunity for some to attack the integrity and truth of the Bible. “He was critical of those who wanted to use apparent technical problems in biblical chronology to cast doubt on doctrinal certainties.” Cary and others believed that using the records of alternative sources could help resolve some of the apparent discrepancies. This was later referred to as scientific chronology, using the records of ancient history to make sense of the Bible.

Ussher’s conclusions seemed to bring a greater degree of certainty to a biblical chronology derived from the Hebrew Bible and orthodox readings of the text. His writings did this “at a time when chronology had become one of the most important determinants in a serious debate about the transmission and authority of the text of the Old Testament.” He was one of the first individuals to be fully aware of the variety of manuscript witnesses for biblical history “and the discrepancies in ancient testimony regarding the Old Testament.” His solution was to affirm the authority of the Hebrew Bible by his own extensive inquiries into the preservation and transmission of alternative textual witnesses, such as the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Septuagint.

So Ussher’s affirmation of the creation of the world at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4004 BCE, occurred within the context of disputes over the apparent chronology of the Hebrew text. At that time, certain individuals used these discrepancies to cast doubt on the transmission and authority of the text of the Old Testament. Today, holding to Ussher’s chronology is still seen as an integral part of affirming the authority of Scripture for many who hold to a young earth creation viewpoint.

Writing for the Institute for Creation Research, John Morris noted the association of Ussher’s chronology with the KJV in “Can the Ussher Chronology Be Trusted?” Morris clearly accepts Ussher’s dating for “all important historical events, beginning at creation and extending to the destruction of Jerusalem in a.d. 70.” He noted where an ICR colleague had modernized the language of Ussher’s original work, and hoped it would re-establish Ussher’s chronology as a standard research tool and restore for some, “their confidence in the Biblical record.”

In another ICR article, James Johnson used ‘simple math’ and the data provided in Genesis to conclude there was no good excuse for doubting the biblical chronological data. He rejected the “irrelevant” issue of whether Genesis genealogies were open (whether they skip generations and have gaps) or closed (the genealogies are complete). Upon completion of his own interpretation of Genesis timeframes, he said there was no good excuse for doubting the biblical chronological data as he presented it.

Yet biblical scholars beginning with William Henry Green in 1890 have continued to raise questions regarding the validity of Ussher’s chronology. Green’s article, “Primeval Chronology,” was published in the journal, Bibliotheca Sacra. He said the biblical genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 were not intended for the construction of chronology.

It can scarcely be necessary to adduce proof to one who has even a superficial acquaintance with the genealogies of the Bible, that they are frequently abbreviated by the omission of unimportant names. In fact, abridgment is the general rule, induced by the indisposition of the sacred writers to encumber their pages with more names than were necessary for their immediate purpose. This is so constantly the case, and the reason for it so obvious, that the occurrence of it need create no surprise anywhere, and we are at liberty to suppose it whenever anything in the circumstances of the case favors that belief.

Several modern evangelical Old Testament scholars concur with Green. C. John Collins, as he discussed the biblical evidence for a historical Adam and Eve in Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, noted that the genealogies in Genesis 4-5 do not claim to name every person in the line of descent from Adam, and therefore aren’t aimed at “providing detailed chronological information.” He added there was no way he knew of to assess what size gaps these genealogies allow. “It does not appear that they are intended to tell us what kind of time period they are describing.”

In his Genesis commentary from The Story of God Bible Commentary series, Tremper Longman said not all the genealogies in Genesis are of the same type or purpose. They are “ancient Near Eastern, not modern Western, genealogies.” The two main kinds of genealogies found in the Bible are linear and segmented. Linear genealogies go from father to one son (or ancestor), while segmented ones name a number of sons (or ancestors) from one father, as in Genesis 10. “Ancient genealogies are fluid.” They can skip generations. “They can change in order to reflect contemporary social and political realities.” According to R. R. Wilson, they are not normally created for historical purposes or intended to be historical records.

In the Bible, as well as in the ancient Near Eastern literature and in the anthropological material, genealogies seem to have been created for domestic, political-jural, and religious purposes, and historical information is preserved in the genealogies only incidentally.

The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary had a similar view on genealogies. It too said linear and segmented were the two major types of biblical genealogies. “Both types show fluidity among the middle names; names may be omitted or rearranged, or relationships changed.”

The Hebrews, like other ancient Near Eastern peoples, used genealogies to authenticate rights of inheritance (Num. 27:1–11), enhance the social position of outsiders (e.g., Caleb, son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite [Num. 32:12; Josh. 14:6; 15:13], becomes a son of Hezron—part of Judah; 1 Chr. 2:18), establish royal and cultic lineages (e.g., David, 1 Chr. 3; priests, 2 Chr. 31:16–19; Levites, Neh. 7:43–45; temple servants, vv. 46–56), and organize their social geography (Gen. 10). Usually only men are recorded.

Genesis 10 provides a list of the descendants of Noah. Many of the names in what is called the “Table of the Nations” have been identified with racial, geographical and political entities outside of the Bible. The following map, based on the Table of the Nations in Genesis 10, was taken from the New Bible Atlas:

nationsIn his Genesis commentary, Bruce Waltke said genealogies serve several purposes in Genesis—purposes which depend in part upon the nature of the genealogy itself. Broad genealogies present only the first generations of descendants (the sons of Leah or the sons of Rachel in Genesis 35:23-26). Deep genealogies list sequential descendants, usually from two to ten. Linear genealogies display only depth (Genesis 4:17-18). Segmented genealogies display both depth and breadth (Genesis 10:1-29; cf. 11:27-29; 19:36-38). “The distinctions of broad, deep, linear and segmented genealogies help explain the various functions of genealogies.”

By tracing their lineage back to a common ancestor, broad and segmented genealogies show the existing relationships between kinship groups. Genealogies were used in tribal societies to express the rights and privileges within social relationships, rather than strict biological kinship. The Table of Nations noted above expressed the kinship and distinctions between Israel and the surrounding nations. “The segmented lists of tribes in Gen. 46:8-25 display both the unity of all Israel and the distinctness of its tribes.”

However the linear genealogies in Genesis 4:17-18, 5:1-31; 11:10-26 are used to establish continuity over time without narrative. “Because the genealogies are concerned to propel the story and establish relational links, they cannot be used to compute absolute chronology.” For example, although the pre-flood genealogy of 5:1-31 and the post-flood genealogy of 11:10-26 record the ages when an individual fathered a son and then died, they don’t give the complete sum of time for the life spans of the individuals. If the narrator intended to establish an absolute, or “closed” chronology, this is a surprising omission.

Comparing shorter and longer genealogies that cover the same time periods elsewhere in the Bible suggest the shorter ones contain gaps. We see this in Exodus 6:14-25 with four generations from Levi to Moses, while 1 Chronicles 7:23-27 gives ten. Similar to the division of history into three periods of fourteen generations in the first chapter of Matthew, the division of history between Adam and Abraham into two equal divisions of ten generations (5:1-32 and 10:10-26) seems “artistic.”

Linear genealogies also demonstrate the legitimacy of an individual in his office; or give a person of rank connections to a worthy family or individual of the past. “This purpose was unaffected by the omission of names.”  We see this in Genesis 5, which showed that Noah was the legitimate descendant of Adam through Seth. “By beginning Noah’s ancestry with Adam, whom God created in his image, this genealogy represents Noah and his ancestry as the worthy bearers of the divine image mandated to rule the earth.”

By linking the genealogies by tôleō [generations] and connecting the twelve tribes of Israel to Noah’s son, Shem, the narrator demonstrates the legitimacy of the twelve tribes of Israel as image bearers, destined to subdue the earth, and as the worthy seed of the woman that will vanquish the Serpent. From those tribes Judah emerges as leader at the end of Genesis. His eternal son will rule forever over the nations (Gen. 49:8-12).

With all due respect to Bishop Ussher, his chronology has outlived its usefulness. Young earth creationists seem to be trying to affirm the authority and infallibility of Scripture by holding onto it. But they err in assuming the authority of Scripture is undermined if alternative ways of interpreting the genealogies are held. And it seems to me that they undermine their witness of the gospel by insisting their interpretation is the only valid one.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

10/25/16

The Handiwork of God

© Andrey Armyagov | 123rf.com

© Andrey Armyagov | 123rf.com

The modern Christian, believing that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, His special revelation to us, will inevitably have to wrestle with whether or not the creation and flood accounts in Genesis are scientifically accurate. It can appear that they are being challenged to “choose whom they will serve”—the revealed God of Scripture or Science. But such an either-or presentation of the issue is a false dichotomy. And the first clue that this is so is found in Scripture itself. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

This is the first verse of Psalm 19, which goes on to assert that this declaration is throughout all the earth. Day and night the creation pours out this knowledge, this general revelation. It comes to all human beings simply because they are alive. The Reformation Study Bible said: “God has revealed Himself this way from the start of human history.” Then there is a shift to declare the perfection of God’s word, His special revelation starting with verse seven: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”

So there is no dichotomy between God’s two books of revelation. Abraham Kuyper asserted this truth when he said: “God is honored not by those who close the second book of nature to ponder Scripture alone, but by those who in quiet obedience zealously study the two books of Scripture and nature.” And if there is no dichotomy between God’s Word and his creation, the problem must exist in how we have interpreted Scripture.

An American scientist and Christian named Richard Bube observed in his 1963 essay, “A Perspective on Scriptural Inerrancy,” that orthodox Christians have been so intent on defending the divine origin of Scripture, that they tended to overlook its relationship to those for whom it was intended. He said we tend the treat the Bible as if it was “dropped down from heaven in one piece, transcribed by the finger of God.” He suggested that a view of Scripture that he called “arbitrary inerrancy” was at fault for this problem. By arbitrary inerrancy, he meant that: “the Scriptures must be inerrant with respect to any criterion applied to them to test their inerrancy.”

Oftentimes conservative theologians have spoken out in defense of Scriptural inerrancy as if there were only one kind of inerrancy imaginable-a kind of all or nothing inerrancy. They argue that the Scriptures are either completely inerrant in every way and with respect to every criterion for inerrancy which may be applied, or they are not inerrant at all. This is the viewpoint of “arbitrary inerrancy.” The term “arbitrary” does not imply that the motives of those who hold to this point of view are arbitrary, but rather that inerrancy must be maintained and defended against arbitrary criteria.

He said there exists a fear that we subtract from God and from His glory when we ascribe His operations in creation to natural mechanisms. There has been a human tendency “to ascribe to the direct and supernatural intervention of God” all those things for which we have no natural or rational explanation. Unfortunately, as time passes and scientific knowledge increases, the unexplained in nature decreases. So there is a tendency to marginalize the relevance of God and His work. “As we find out more and more about His creation, we see less and less evidence of the Creator!”

The problem identified here by Bube is particularly evident when Christians seek to faithfully understand the creation and flood accounts in Genesis. His sense of arbitrary inerrancy would apply to questions raised by science about the age of the earth and process of creation, as well as the reality of a global flood. The relatively recent creation of the earth in six twenty-four hour days, and its later destruction by a worldwide flood was unchallenged for centuries. Then modern geology and Darwin happened.

Christians attempted to harmonize the biblical teaching in Genesis to the developing scientific theories, in a process called concordism. An example of this given by C. John Collins in his book, Did Adam and Eve Really Exist?, was how in the nineteenth century the days of Genesis 1 were said to have anticipated findings of modern science in the geological ages of the earth, “even down to details of sequence and timing.”

An obvious problem with this approach is that geologists today do not describe the earth’s history the way they did in 1871. So does that mean “we should reject contemporary geology in favor of 1871 geology, or that the Bible was wrong?” Collins went on to say:

More significantly from an exegetical standpoint, the kind of concordism on display in nineteenth century studies of Genesis assumes that the Bible writer’s purpose was to describe the same sorts of things as the contemporary scientist does. This is a highly problematic assumption, when one considers the audience for whom Genesis was written—Old Testament Israel, whose main concerns were dominated by subsistence agriculture. Further, it assumes that truth and scientific detail are the same thing, which is absurd.

Another sense of concordism is held by Denis Lamoureux. He separates concordism into theological and scientific concordism. By theological concordism, he means “there is an indispensible correspondence between the theological truths of Scripture and spiritual reality,” which he affirmed. On the other hand, scientific concordism referred to the belief there is “an alignment between the assertions about nature in the Bible and the physical world.”

Lamoureux agreed it is reasonable to believe there is agreement or accord between science and Scripture.  That is what the sense of the two books of revelation means—the book of God’s works (nature) and the Book of God’s Word (the Bible). But he has something else in mind. By the term scientific concordism, Lamoureux means the belief that through the Holy Spirit, God revealed modern scientific facts to the biblical writers. Therefore, the statements about the physical world in the Bible are themselves inerrant—without error. So questioning these statements is seen as an attack on the belief in biblical inerrancy. This sense of scientific concordism does appear to underlie young earth creationism.

So when an orthodox, Bible-believing Christian seeks to understand Genesis 1, what are they to do? Are they required to take up the arbitrary inerrancy position or the scientific concordist approach of young earth creation and thus defend a strict literalist understanding of the text? Can they have a more relaxed understanding of concordism that seeks to harmonize Genesis 1 with the science of origins, recognizing that their harmonization may change as science develops? Or can they avoid the dilemmas of concordism entirely by approaching Genesis 1 as an ancient text devoid of specifics on how God created the universe? R. K. Harrison, an Old Testament professor at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto said this in his textbook, Introduction to the Old Testament:

Since the first chapter of Genesis is clearly not intended to comprise a scientific document—if only because of its sheer untechnical language—it is obviously undesirable to posit concordist theories of the relationship between the creation narratives and the findings of modern descriptive science. Having said this, however, it is necessary to remind the reader that the phases of development recorded in Genesis 1 are by no means as unaligned with the findings of modern science as was supposed by earlier writers on the subject. What is of primary importance for the Biblical student as well as for the scientist is to realize that the Genesis narrative must be interpreted from the standpoint of its anonymous author before pontifications are made as to when it is and is not “scientific.”

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

09/23/16

The Zenith of Rest

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© grace21 |stockfresh.com

According to John Walton, the seventh day of the Genesis creation account can be something of a theological afterthought. “It appears to be nothing more than an afterthought with theological concerns about Israelites observing the sabbath—an appendix, a postscript, a tack on.”  There is a literary structure to the first six days in Genesis 1 that C. John Collins called “exalted prose,” but the pattern ends there. Then we hear that God rested from his work of creation on the seventh day. But what does God resting have to do with creation? And why would God rest? It’s not as if He was actually tired from all his creative activity. Then what does it mean for God to rest?

Walton believes that rest is the objective of creation. In fact, without the seventh day of rest, the other six days of Genesis 1 don’t achieve their full meaning. “Even though people are the climax of the six days, day seven is the climax of this origins account.” To make his point, he turned to Scripture. The Hebrew word for “rested” in Genesis 2:2 is šābat, which means to sever, put an end to, cease. The English term “Sabbath” is derived from it.

In Deuteronomy 12:10, God told the Israelites that when they crossed over the Jordan and lived in the land He was giving them, they would have rest from their enemies and live in safety. After Moses died and Joshua was preparing the Israelites to cross the Jordan, he told them to remember what Moses had told them about the Lord providing them a place of rest. As Joshua was about to release the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh to return across the Jordan to their lands, the narrator said the Lord had given them rest on every side, just as He said He would (Josh 21:44). When David saw that the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies, he thought he would build a house for the Lord to dwell in (2 Samuel 7:1-2).

The rest that God offers his people is freedom from invasion and conflict. Now they can live at peace and conduct their daily lives without interruption. “It refers to achieving a state of order in society.” When Jesus invited those who were weary and burdened to come to him, he offered them rest (Matthew 11:28). He invited people to participate in the ordered kingdom of God, where their yoke would be easy and their burden light. The author of Hebrews looked to a future rest, where anyone who entered it would rest from their works as God did from his (Hebrews 4:10-11).

In light of this usage, we can discern that resting pertains to the security and stability found in equilibrium of an ordered system. When God rests on the seventh day, he is taking up his residence in the ordered system that he has brought about in the previous six days. It is not something that he does only on the seventh day; it is what he does every day thereafter. Furthermore, his rest is not just a matter of having a place of residence—he is exercising his control over this ordered system where he intends to relate to people whom he has placed there and for whom he has made the system to function.

God was not only making a home for the people He created in His image when He created the cosmos, he was making a home for himself. But in the ancient world, the temple was not only the residence of a god, it was the throne room from which the god ruled and maintained order. So an ancient reader, according to Walton, would have recognized Genesis 1 (referring to Genesis 1:1-2:3) as a temple story or text. Temple-building accounts often accompanied cosmologies. After he established order, which was the focus of ancient cosmologies, the deity “took control of that ordered system.” When the deity rests in the temple, he is assuming his rightful place and his proper role—he is assuming the throne.

This is the element that we are sadly missing when we read the Genesis account. God has ordered the cosmos with the purpose of taking up his residence in it and ruling over it. Day seven is the reason for days one through six. It is the fulfillment of God’s purpose.

God built the cosmos to be sacred space, and the account in Genesis 1 is an account of the origins of sacred space rather than an account of the origins of the material cosmos. Rather than an ancient temple where people could relate to their god by ritually meeting his needs, “God built the cosmos to be sacred space and then put people in that sacred space as a place where he could be in relationship with them.”

What I’ve presented above are ideas and quotes from John Walton in The Lost World of Genesis and The Lost World of Adam and Eve. His views of Genesis 1 and 2 have their critics, but I’ve found his argument stimulating in a number of different ways. You can introduce yourself to his thought here, in a series of articles and even a video series on the evolutionary creation website, BioLogos. His interpretation of Genesis is certainly consistent with evolutionary creation, but exists independent of it. You can accept his understanding of Genesis without becoming an evolutionary creationist.

I think his sense of Genesis 1 as a temple text fits nicely with a redemptive historical understanding of Scripture as a whole. And I think it could fit there as follows.

Walton sees Genesis 1 as God building a sacred space, a temple, in which He would also place people so He could be in relationship with them. In Genesis 2 and even into Genesis 3, we see the reality of this fellowship with God. Then as a consequence of their sin, God drove Adam and Eve from the sacred space of the Garden (Genesis 3:23-24). However, this was not the end of his plan to be in relationship with people. Even before their sin, God had already begun to point them to the work of redemption He would accomplish in His Son.

In Genesis 2, He made a helper for the man because He saw that it was not good for the man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Presented with the woman, the man said: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Here God instituted biblical marriage. The following comment on this action by God—“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24)—will later be quoted by Paul in Ephesians 5:31. Paul saw this action by God in Genesis 2 as a mystery referring to Christ and the church. The coming of Christ revealed that God’s establishment of biblical marriage was a protoevangelium, if you will.

In Genesis 3, is the judgment statement against the serpent has been understood by many since Justin and Irenaeus in the 2nd century as the protoevangelium: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” The protoevangelium is the first (proto) gospel (evangelion); the first reference in Scripture of the idea of a Messiah. So before God put the man and the woman out of the Garden, He gave them two hints of his future plans in Christ.

After Moses completed the tabernacle (Exodus 40:34) and when Solomon had finished his prayer dedicating the temple ((2 Chronicles 7:1-2), these structures were filled with the presence of the Lord and became sacred space. In Ezekiel’s vision of the temple, the glory of the Lord filled the temple and the Lord said the place of his throne and the place where he will dwell will be in the midst of the people forever (Ezekiel 43:4-7).

Then in Christ, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Jesus called people to Him that they might have rest (Matthew 11:28), for he is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:8). When he ascended into heaven, he sat at the right hand of the Father (Mark 16:19). When he returns, he will return the same way as he left (Acts 1:11). His return will be to fulfill the mystery of Genesis 2:24, revealed in Christ (Ephesians 5:32)—the marriage supper of the Lamb, and his bride, the church (Revelations 19:7).

In the new heaven and new earth, in this new sacred space, God will fulfill His intent to dwell with his people: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Revelations 21:3). There will not be a temple in this New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, because its temple is the Lord God and the Lamb (Revelations 21:22). The Sabbath rest of Exodus 20:11 will be made manifest. The seventh day of the Genesis creation account will have reached its zenith.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

09/15/16

What’s in a Day?

© AnnaOmelchenko | stockfresh.com

© AnnaOmelchenko | stockfresh.com

Christianity sees the seventh day of creation tied to the fourth commandment in Exodus 20:8-11. Exodus 20:11 said God made the heaven and earth in six days and rested the seventh day. “Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” C. John Collins observed that for many people, this implies that not only was the creation week “the first ‘week’ of the creation, but in fact it was of identical length to the week we are familiar with.” A day in Genesis 1 is twenty-four hours and a week is seven twenty-four hour days. Any other interpretation is a violation of the authority of Scripture and is forbidden. But what if that’s not what Genesis 1 means when it refers to days and a week?

In Redeeming Science Vern Poythress pointed out that although some people think that the length of a 24-hour day in Genesis 1 is obvious, “the text does not directly state how long the days were in terms of ordinary human measurement.” The use of the Hebrew word for day (yom) and the evening and morning refrain points to a correspondence between God’s work and the human sabbatical pattern, but it does not prove the correspondence is an identity.

The next thread to pull in the seven twenty-four-hour day understanding is that the seventh day doesn’t have the formulaic beginning and ending: “And God said . . . And there was evening and there was morning, the ______ day.” The usual reply is that seventh day in the creation week was the day God rested from all his creative work (Genesis 2:1-3). Since he completed his work in the sixth day, the seventh day would not have a formulaic ending because the creative work was completed. Nevertheless, this is a distinct break in the pattern of the workweek with the first six days.

But how long is the seventh day? Poythress said the seventh day has a special blessing and holiness because God rested on it from all his work (Genesis 2:3). God’s rest is the pattern for human rest, as we see in the fourth commandment. Since God rested on the seventh day of creation, He blessed the Sabbath and made it holy (Exodus 20:8-11). The holiness belongs to God’s rest, not the day itself. “The holiness extends to the day precisely because it is the day of God’s rest.” In order to deserve the holiness it receives, the seventh day must be linked closely to God’s rest. So he concludes that since God’s rest goes on forever, “God’s day of rest also goes on forever.”

While God’s work of creation was finished and his rest from it lasts forever, our rest on the seventh day isn’t absolutely finished yet. We begin again on the first day of the next workweek. But our work is heading towards the coming time of absolute, final rest (Hebrews 4:9-11). “Our human rest on one day of 24 hours looks not only backward to God’s rest from creating but also forward to our final ‘day’ of rest.” Human 24-hour Sabbath rest both foreshadows our final rest, and imitates the final rest of God, into which He has already entered. “This foreshadowing involves analogy to the reality to which it points, rather than pure identity of length.” So again, God’s seventh day in Genesis 2:2-3 is unending.

“And if this is so, then it is analogous rather than identical to a human day of 24 hours.” If the seventh day of the creation week is analogical, then the pattern of God’s entire workweek forms an analogical pattern to our work and rest. God’s workweek is not the same as a human workweek, but they correspond to one another. They are analogical. Now look at this conclusion another way.

An original reader of Genesis 1 would recognize and relate to the rhythm of God working with a rhythm like that of a human work week rather than a description of His activity segmented into 24-hour days. “The pattern that strikes him is the rhythm of work, not the question of the ticking clock.” The Israelites did not have mechanical clocks, so measurement by clock time (i.e., 24-hour days) makes no sense to them. The time pattern of workdays, followed by night—evening and morning—would make the most sense to them.

Poythress said in Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1 the analogy in Genesis 1 extends to the entire week, including the evenings and mornings, and isn’t just focused on the word day. “God pauses between his works from one day to the next.” This reflects the human work pattern noted in Psalm 104:23: “Man goes out to his work and to his labor until the evening.”

Now look at the pattern of evening and morning, repeated in the six days of creative work in Genesis 1. God is working during the day and “resting” during the evening, just as man does in his work. The lack of “evening and morning” for the seventh day in Genesis 2:3-4 indicates the continuation of his day of rest from the work of creation. “God’s rest from the work of creation is everlasting.” He no longer “creates” animals or plants or humans —the conception and birth of Christ being the only exception. So by inference, the day of God’s rest is everlasting; and not 24-hours long. So when Exodus 20:8-11 establishes a 24-hour Sabbath day of rest imitating the day of God’s rest from his creative works, it is analogical to God’s rest. “So again the salient factor is not the length of time, as measured by a clock of some kind, but rather the kinds of activities that take place during the day.”

We see God having the same pattern of work and rest, moving towards His Sabbath. The first day is God’s workday, followed by rest; and another workday and rest; continuing until the Sabbath day of rest. God cannot be literally said to “rest,” since he cannot get tired, so the language of his workweek and Sabbath is once again analogical and not literal. The narrator of Genesis “wanted primarily to tell us about the making and shaping of the earth as a place for humans to live in fellowship with their Maker.” See this link for free ebook copies of the two works referenced above by Vern Poythress, Redeeming Science and Christian Interpretations of Genesis 1.

C. John Collins said the best term for the formulaic language used in Genesis 1 was “exalted prose.” By this he meant the language is “higher” than ordinary language, as is the language in a very traditional high-church liturgy. “The language here is stylized, very broad-stroke, and majestic in its simplicity.” It makes the same truth claims as traditional prose narrative. But “we must not impose a ‘literalistic’ hermeneutic on the text.”

The alternative understanding proposed by Collins and Poythress for a literalistic sense of the days in Genesis 1 is called the analogical days view. There is an analogical, but not an identical correspondence between God’s workweek in Genesis and the human workweek of six 24-hours days and a day of rest. The days in Genesis are structured to set a pattern for our own rhythm of rest and work. The length of time for the creation week, either before or after it, is irrelevant to the purpose of the account. Poythress closed his discussion of the analogical day view in Redeeming Science with the following:

Thus, when some advocates of the 24-hour-day view claim to have specific information about the length of the days, they fall short in hearing what Genesis does and does not say. They sincerely desire to honor God’s word, and to follow God wherever he leads, but they have not done full justice to the passage. In harmony with the analogical day view, the passage simply teaches that God made the world in six days but does not provide details about how to measure the exact length of the days by some objective, nonhuman standard.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

 

 

08/26/16

Crumbling Pillars?

35367610 - ruin of temple e (temple of castor and pollux) in the archeological park of selinunte in southern sicily

© Andreas Metz | 123rf.com

On July 7, 2016, the Ark Encounter, a “life-sized Noah’s Ark experience” was opened to the public. The centerpiece of the Answers in Genesis “theme park” is a 510-foot long replica of Noah’s Ark, standing over 50 feet tall. The park has a petting zoo, daily animal shows, zip lines, live entertainment and a 1,500-seat restaurant. One of its exhibits shows children living alongside dinosaurs. Future phases seek to build the Tower of Babel and a building that will house “a walk through Biblical history.” Admission is $40 for adults and $28 for children. Parking costs an additional $10. Oh, and the total cost of the project was $100 million.

There is a ready-made market for the Ark Encounter. An ABC News poll in 2004 found that 60% of Americans believed that the biblical story of Noah was literally true. When sorted by faith groups, 44% of Catholics thought the biblical story of Noah was literally true; and 87% of evangelical Protestants thought it was literally true. Only 29% with no religious affiliation thought it was literally true. The problem is: “The scientific and historical evidence is now clear: there has never been a global flood that covered the entire earth, nor do all modern animals and humans descend from the passengers of a single vessel.”

The two main pillars of a young earth creationist understanding of the Bible are the creation of the earth 6,000 years ago and a global flood. They hang together to uphold young earth creationism (YEC). The “apparent” geological evidence for an age of the earth far beyond 6,000 years is explained by the cataclysmic destruction from a global flood. The layers of sedimentary rock from around the world; the extinction of multiple kinds of animals—including the dinosaurs and others—is explained by the Biblical account of Noah’s Flood.

In another article, I looked at how the argument for a young earth rests on the false assumption that a chronology for the age of the earth can be derived from the Biblical genealogies. See “The Fall of the Chronology of Ussher” for more on this issue. Here we discover there are cracks in the other pillar—the assertion of a global flood.

Two Christian geologists, Gregg Davidson and Ken Wolgemuth questioned whether Noah’s Flood could account for the earth’s complex geology in their essay: “Biblical and Scientific Shortcomings of Flood Geology.”

To explain the vast thicknesses and incredible complexity of the earth’s sedimentary deposits within a short history, it is argued that the Flood must have been both global and violent. Flood Geology is thus synonymous with belief in a young earth. It is our conviction that this position is unreasonable from both a biblical and scientific perspective.

One of the challenges raised by Davidson and Woglemuth has to do with salt deposits like those found in the Gulf of Mexico. Salt deposits form when water is evaporated. “During evaporation, the concentration of dissolved ions increases until the water cannot hold the salt in solution anymore and mineral salt begins to form.” The problem is these salt deposits are between layers of sediment that the global flood was supposed to have deposited. “ A single, flood cannot be called upon to explain both the salt and the overlying sediment.”

Another challenge is the Grand Canyon, with its alternating layers of limestone, sandstone and shale. The sequence defies any reasonable attempt to explain it by a single flood. However, if the deposits were formed at different times under varying stages of sea levels, it is very easy to explain them. “If explained with a single catastrophic flood that abided by God’s natural laws of physics and chemistry, logic must be stretched beyond the breaking point.” And the multiple layers of limestone found in the Grand Canyon are never found in flood deposits.

Then there is the fossil record. If a massive flood were responsible for the fossil record, we should expect to see life forms from every living “kind” mixed together. Mammoths should be mixed in with triceratops; pterodactyls with sparrows. Ferns and meadow flowers should be found along with trilobites and whales. But what we see is quite different.

There is an orderly sequence where trilobites only occur in very old rocks, dinosaurs in later beds, and mammoths in still later layers. Organisms like flowers and ferns are present together in more recent deposits, but only ferns with no flowers are found in older deposits.

There is a new book, The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth, which looks specifically at the geology of canyon rocks and landforms in the light of the claims of flood geologists. Two of the eleven contributors are Davidson and Woglemuth. In “Flood Geology and the Grand Canyon” four contributors from the book use explanations and illustrations from their book to challenge five kinds of evidence in the Grand Canyon that flood geologists say support a global flood.

They used a graphic from Answers in Genesis (here) that summarizes these five different “evidences,” and then gave a synopsis of where they specifically refuted these flood geology claims in The Grand Canyon, Monument to an Ancient Earth. In the conclusion to their article, the authors said the geology of the Grand Canyon is known fairly well after nearly 150 years of study. The geological evidence “is overwhelmingly inconsistent with flood geology.” The rocks reveal multiple episodes of deposition and intervening periods of erosion. The fossil evidence does not reflect the rapid burial of sea animals and small land animals out of the deep, turbulent water hypothesized as occurring with a global flood. “Flood geologists have failed to conceive a physical model for catastrophic formation that is consistent with the real geology of the Grand Canyon.”

Another book by two Christian geologists, The Bible, Rocks and Time, was written with the intent to convince readers on biblical and geological grounds “of the vast antiquity of this amazing planet that is our God-given home.” Along the way they point out the flaws of young earth creationism.

Although the issue of Earth’s antiquity may seem to be little more than an interesting intellectual exercise that has little immediate bearing on one’s life, we point out that this issue can have profound spiritual consequences for the church of Jesus Christ, the individual Christian and the nonbeliever as well.

An article by Ted Davis on BioLogos, “The Bible, Rocks and Time: Christians and an Old Earth,” quoted two excerpts from the book. One “snip” noted where a growing number of orthodox evangelical Christian writers have accepted and accommodated their thinking “to the mounting evidence for terrestrial antiquity.” Linked there was an article originally written by Davis Young, one of the authors of The Bible, Rocks and Time. The article, “Scripture in the Hands of Geologists (Part Two),” was originally published in the Westminster Theological Journal. Part Two of Young’s article surveyed the concordist tradition when interpreting the early chapters of Genesis by Christian geologists. Young and Stearley were quoted as saying in The Bible, Rocks and Time:

A growing number of orthodox evangelical Christian writers, including geologists, preachers, biblical scholars and theologians, accepted and accommodated their thinking to the mounting evidence for terrestrial antiquity. In response, they began to develop a variety of strategies purporting to show how the biblical data were consistent with the findings of geology. . . . Having been encouraged to look afresh at the biblical creation accounts, experts in the original languages became persuaded that there is no conflict between the data of nature and the teaching of Scripture. These individuals continued to insist on the inspiration of the Bible and refused to call Genesis a myth in order to explain difficulties. It was, however, accepted that the traditional exegesis of Genesis 1 was not the only one that adequately satisfied the biblical data.

The two pillars of a YEC view of Genesis pit the two books of God’s revelation, Scripture and Nature, God’s Word and God’s Works against one another. As a consequence, they have weakened and not strengthened His revelation in both books. This “two books theology” was an essential foundation for the rise of modern science. As Mark Mann said, “Christians need to ‘read’ Scripture and Creation together in order to understand the fullness of God’s Word and truth for us today.” In Redeeming Science, Vern Poythress pointed out that scientific laws are what can be known about God in the things that have been made. “Since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, such as his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived (Romans 1:20).”

In reality, what people call “scientific law” is divine. We are speaking of God himself and his revelation of himself through his governance of the world. Scientists must believe in scientific law in order to carry out their work. When we analyze what this scientific law really is, we find that scientists are constantly confronted with God himself, the Trinitarian God, and are constantly depending on who he is and what he does in conformity with his divine nature. In thinking about law, scientists are thinking God’s thoughts after him. (Redeeming Science, pp. 26-27)

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

08/5/16

The Fall of the Chronology of Ussher

© Oleksandr Solonenko | 123rf.com

© Oleksandr Solonenko | 123rf.com

According to Bishop James Ussher, the world was created at nightfall on Saturday, October 22, 4,004 BCE. This amazingly precise declaration was just one of the important dates, both biblical and historical, that appeared in his seminal work, The Annals of the World. The “cosmological age” for creation occurring around 4,000 BCE was a widely accepted date in the 17th century. Its acceptance was partly based on 2 Peter 3:8, which says: “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” The application of the passage for the date of creation is that the six days of creation meant the earth would exist for 6,000 years—4,000 years until the time of Christ, and 2,000 years afterwards. If Ussher was correct, we are now living on borrowed time.

Ussher’s chronology was not the first to calculate that the creation of the world was around 4,000 BCE, but today it is the most well known. Others who had proposed similar biblically based estimates include: Bede (3952 BCE), the astronomer Johannes Kepler (3992 BCE), Sir Isaac Newton (4000 BCE), and Rabbi Jose ben Halafta (3761 BCE). Ussher’s very specific date was based on a desire “to get it right.” He used astronomical and religious sources to estimate the season of the year, day of the week and time of day he thought creation had to be. He believed the time was in the autumn, since that was the beginning of the Jewish calendar year, and on a Saturday evening, because of the Sabbath.

The Annals full title in English is a mouthful: “Annals of the Old Testament, deduced from the first origins of the world, the chronicle of Asiatic and Egyptian matters together produced from the beginning of historical time up to the beginnings of Maccabees.” It was 1300 pages, with 14,000 footnotes. Ussher worked on it for 20 years before it was published. The original printing sold well. What gave Ussher’s chronology staying power was its use in the margins of an edition of the Bible published by London bookseller Thomas Guy in 1675. Beginning in 1701 several editions of the King James translation included Ussher’s dates in its marginal notes and cross-references. The widely circulated Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909 and revised in 1917, used Ussher’s dates and would become the main conduit of the chronology into modern times.

Ussher (1581-1656) was a careful and thoughtful man, well schooled in his faith and history. He was ordained in 1601 and was a professor at Trinity College in Dublin from 1607-1621. As early as 1624, he was invited to preach before King James I. He was made archbishop of Armagh in 1621 and primate of Ireland in 1634. When civil war broke out in 1642, he was in England. He never returned to Ireland. Ussher declined an invitation to join the Westminster Assembly of Divines (1643-49), who incidentally produced the Westminster Confession of Faith. He later preached against the legality of the Assembly.

He wrote on a wide variety of topics, mostly theological and historical, and was an expert in Semitic languages. “He was widely acknowledged for his thorough and impartial scholarship.” Stephen Jay Gould, the evolutionary biologist and paleontologist, said Ussher’s chronology was “an honorable effort for its time.” You can find more information about Ussher and his chronology here on Wikipedia, or in “James Ussher” in the Encyclopedia Britannica online. You can also listen to a 10-minute podcast on Ussher and his book, “Annals of the World, 1650,” for Documents that Changed the World.

Ussher’s chronology is the cornerstone for determining the age of the earth by young earth creationist organizations like Creation Magazine, the Institute for Creation Research, which was founded by Henry Morris, and Answers in Genesis, founded by Ken Ham. Here is a link to a timeline that appeared in Creation Magazine. It was based upon the details provided by Archbishop Ussher in his Annals of the World. Both the Institute for Creation Research (here) and Answers in Genesis (here) explicitly draw their declarations for the age of the earth from Ussher’s calculations. If you want, you can verify this claim by comparing their discussion of dates for creation to the timeline of Ussher’s chronology found in Creation Magazine. The organization Answers in Genesis also has a table listing 32 different individuals who calculated the date of the creation of the earth to be between 5501 and 3836 BCE.

But what if the assumptions made by Ussher and others about the biblical genealogies used to calculate the age of the earth were wrong?  William Henry Green, an Old Testament professor at Princeton Theological Seminary in the late 1800s, addressed this question in his 1890 article in the journal Bibliotheca Sacra, “Primeval Chronology.” Green said the accepted chronology of his time (Ussher’s chronology) was based upon an assumption that there were no gaps in the biblical genealogies, most notably those of Genesis 5 and 11. However, he examined the biblical genealogies and found: “There is an element of uncertainty in a computation of time which rests upon genealogies, as the sacred chronology so largely does.”

I here repeat, the discussion of the biblical genealogies above referred to, and add some further considerations which seem to me to justify the belief that the genealogies in Genesis 5 and 11 were not intended to be used, and cannot properly be used, for the construction of a chronology.

Green then went through an extensive examination of several different genealogies in the Bible to support his point that they regularly had gaps. He commented they are frequently abbreviated by omitting unimportant names. “In fact, abridgement is the general rule.” He thought the occurrence of an abridgement should not create surprise “and we are at liberty to suppose it whenever anything in the circumstances of the case favors that belief.” The analogy of Scriptural genealogies opposes the supposition that “the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11 are necessarily to be considered as complete, and embracing all the links in the line of descent from Adam to Noah and from Shem to Abraham.”

On these various grounds we conclude that the Scriptures furnish no data for a chronological computation prior to the life of Abraham; and that the Mosaic records do not fix and were not intended to fix the precise date either of the Flood or of the creation of the world.

Biblical evidence is then available to indicate Ussher’s chronology was based on faulty assumptions regarding the genealogies of Genesis 5 and 11. They were not intended to construct a chronology and are improperly utilized by individuals and organizations that do so.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

07/5/16

Digging Deeper

© bowie 15 | 123rf.com

© bowie 15 | 123rf.com

The trial of Galileo has been used to illustrate the assumed conflict between science and religion for the last four hundred years. But there is a false dichotomy here. It’s really not about science versus religion. Francis Bacon, an early scientist and Christian said: “Let no woman or man, out of conceit or laziness, think or believe that anyone can search too far or be too well informed in the Book of God’s Works or the Book of God’s Words.” Galileo himself said: “The glory and greatness of Almighty God are marvelously discerned in all His works and divinely read in the open book of Heaven.” God reveals His glory and greatness in the Book of His Works just as He does within the Book of His Word.

For many years, Galileo pointed his telescope at the heavens and demonstrated that Jupiter had moons, Venus had phases, and the moon had mountains, among other astronomical discoveries. He became convinced from his observations that the sun-centered theory of Nicholaus Copernicus was correct. But in 1616, the Inquisition declared heliocentrism to be heretical, and Galileo was ordered to refrain from holding, teaching or defending such ideas. He was able to hold his tongue until 1632, when he published Dialogue Concerning the Two World Systems. He almost got away with it, as he had cleverly woven his arguments into a fictional dialogue between three individuals. This hypothetical discussion had been permitted by the Inquisition. His mistake was putting a concluding argument used by the pope in the mouth of the character named Simplico. You don’t need to know Italian to guess what that name means.

Galileo’s enemies were able to convince Pope Urban that if the statement came from Simplicio, Galileo had intended to make fun of it and Urban himself. Ironically, church censors had directed Galileo to include the argument in the book as a standard papal argument against heliocentrism. This led to Galileo’s trial for heresy on June 22, 1633. Under the threat of torture, imprisonment and even being burned at the stake, he was forced to renounce his belief “that the sun, not Earth, was the center of the universe and that Earth moved around the sun and not vice versa, as ecclesiastical teaching dictated.” It wasn’t until October 31, 2009 that the Vatican formally corrected the record with a “not guilty” finding.

To be fair, it seems Galileo could be arrogant at times, and it might be that enemies he made from his sharp tongue were responsible for his coming before the Inquisition. Here is one example of his acerbicness from a letter he wrote to the German astronomer Johannes Kepler in 1610, six years before heliocentrism was first declared to be heresy. He complained to Kepler, that some philosophers had refused to even look through his telescope to see for themselves what he had discovered about the heavens.

My dear Kepler, I wish that we might laugh at the remarkable stupidity of the common herd. What do you have to say about the principal philosophers of this academy who are filled with the stubbornness of an asp and do not want to look at either the planets, the moon or the telescope, even though I have freely and deliberately offered them the opportunity a thousand times? Truly, just as the asp stops its ears, so do these philosophers shut their eyes to the light of truth.

Today, among Christians that false dichotomy is not between astronomy and the Bible, but with evolution and the Bible. Some Christians affirm what is called a “creation science” understanding of the Bible. They hold that God “created the world quickly and completely through dramatic, miraculous interventions.” According to Denis Lamoureux, an evolutionary creationist (yes there can be bible-believing Christians who believe in evolution):

The greatest problem with young earth creation is that it completely contradicts every modern scientific discipline that investigates the origins of the universe and life. There are very few scientists working in the disciplines of cosmology, geology, and biology who accept this anti-evolutionary position. (Lamoureux, I Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution, p. 22).

Creation science holds to a hermeneutic for determining the age of the earth that was influenced by Anglican bishop James Ussher. He based his chronological calculations on the questionable assumption that the genealogical lists in Genesis (5:1-4; 11:10-32) and other passages of Scripture described a literal, unbroken succession. Assuming there to be no gaps in the generations, he calculated the exact date of creation to be Sunday, October 23, 4004 BC. Deborah and Loren Haarsema noted that even if the genealogies had gaps, the date of creation wouldn’t be more than 8 or 10 thousand years ago.

In order to explain the acceptance of evolution by modern science, creation scientists like Henry Morris say Satan blinds the minds of hundreds of thousands of scientists. This would include many Christians who accept evolution as God’s method of creation, setting the stage for uncharitable exchanges and even division in the church. In an article titled “Strong Delusion,” Henry Morris marveled that the pseudo-scientific evolutionary worldview, which he said was not based on any real scientific evidence, could be believed so passionately. He wondered how those who believe in evolution can be won to Christ “when their minds have been blinded by Satan and are under such strong delusion that they have become sincerely committed to the false worldview of evolution?”

The Two Books idea, the Book of God’s work in nature, and the Book of God’s Words in Scripture is where Christians can go for help in resolving this dilemma. Deborah and Loren Haarsma, the authors of the book Origins, have put together a series of short videos on topics discussed at length in their book. Session 2, “Origins: It’s Not About Science versus Scripture,” tackles this issue and even includes Galileo in their discussion. Since God is the Author of revelation in nature and Scripture, there is no conflict. “We trust that God would not tell one story in nature, and a contradictory story in Scripture.”

Even in the midst of difficult conflict, we trust that God is telling us one story. There is a harmony. And it gives us a strategy. When the two sides seem to conflict, we don’t simply throw out one and hold on to the other. Instead, we hold onto both sides and dig deeper to test our human interpretations. . . . By listening to both nature and Scripture, we gain a fuller understanding of God’s story in creation.

Extracting the story of Galileo and his trial from history as “proof” of the war between science and religion is akin to proof texting with Biblical passages isolated from the whole of Scripture. The full story shows how science was able to clearly demonstrate the universe was not earth-centered. And we see that what occurred with Galileo was a misinterpretation of Scripture by the church. When Psalm 93:1 says: “The world is established; it shall never be moved”, it was using phenomenological language, and not affirming an earth-centered universe. “The conflict arises when we get one or both interpretations wrong.”

God tells us one story. He would not contradict himself by saying one thing in Scripture and another in nature. Creation science seems to hold on so tight to Scripture, that they willingly deny well-received scientific findings like the age of the earth and universe.

When there is apparent conflict, as seems to be occurring with Scripture and science over evolution, we need to hold onto both. We can’t jettison Scripture or its hard won doctrines for a dystelological version of evolution. And we can’t shoe horn scientific truth into—or between—the passages of Scripture. We have to hold on to and dig deeper into both.

In a post script, NASA’s Juno mission entered orbit around the planet Jupiter on July 4th and began a two year study of the planet. On board are three specially constructed LEGO figurines including one of Galileo, who discovered the four largest moons of Jupiter. When its mission is complete, Juno will take a suicide plunge into Jupiter’s atmosphere. NASA doesn’t want to take a chance of any rogue microbes on the spacecraft unintentionally contaminating Jupiter’s moons, especially Europa and Ganymede, which are believed to have oceans and the possibility of life.

06/24/16

Genesis, Science and Creation

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© Oleg Dudko | 123rf.com

For conservative Christians holding to the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience” in the modern world, there is perhaps no more important question than whether science is a competing or complementary form of knowledge and authority to Scripture. In a way, this dilemma is traceable to the third chapter of Genesis. Genesis 3 contains the story of the Fall of humanity, where Adam and Eve fell into the trap of striving to be “like God” by knowing good and evil independent of God and his revelation. Ironically, they did gain knowledge independent of God; and the first thing they discovered was their own “nakedness” apart from God. Autonomous knowledge comes with a price.

We can see this compulsion for autonomous knowledge clearly within a short discussion of the encounter of God and His Word with science and nature. In Escape from Reason, Francis Schaeffer noted how early scientists shared the outlook of Christianity in believing that a reasonable God created a reasonable universe; and humans, by using their reason, could become knowledgeable about the universe. Early science was natural science, but it wasn’t naturalistic. There wasn’t an assumption that reason could be exercised independent of God; that nature could be known autonomous of God’s revelation.

Alister McGrath’s discussion of the relationship between science and religion in his book Science & Religion is helpful here. McGrath said there were three broad positions on the relationship between the natural world and the divine. The first is that the natural world is divine. This is certainly not a position that either Christianity or modern science would take. A second position is that the natural world is created and bears some resemblance to its Creator. The third is that the natural world has no relation to God. This third position underlies the view of what Schaeffer calls modern, modern science. And the second is necessary for a two books view of Scripture and Nature.

This idea (which is sometimes expressed in terms of the “two books” of Scripture and Nature) gave additional impetus to the study of nature. If God could not be seen, yet had somehow imprinted his nature on the creation, it would be possible to gain an enhanced appreciation of the nature and purpose of God by studying the natural order.

Science and the Bible were able to peacefully coexist for centuries. Nature was the “textbook” of God’s general revelation; and the Bible was the handbook of his special revelation. This “two books theology,” as noted above, was an essential foundation for the rise of modern science. Denis Lamoureux quoted Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), a scientist and Christian, on the “two books” of God’s revelation:

Let no woman or man out of conceit or laziness, think or believe that anyone can search too far or be too well informed in the Book of God’s Works or the Book of God’s Words. Instead, let everyone endlessly improve their understanding of both.

A related issue concerns the order of nature within a doctrine of creation. “The doctrine of creation leads directly to the notion that the universe is possessed of regularity which is capable of being uncovered by humanity.” Encapsulated within “the laws of nature,” this was of fundamental importance to the emergence and development of the natural sciences. But how then do science and religion interact? Are they part of the same reality? Are the insights of science and religion contradictory or complementary to each other?

McGrath said one view of the interaction of science and religion sees them as in conflict or at war with each other. A second view sees science and religion as convergent; “all truth is God’s truth.” Developments in science should be welcomed and accommodated within the Christian faith. The third view sees science and religion as distinct. In other words, the natural sciences ask the “how” questions, while theology asks the “why” questions.

In his book, Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern Man, Bryan Applyard dated the birth of modern science to the time of Galileo. The moment that Galileo looked through his telescope in 1609 contained “all that was new and revolutionary in science.” He looked through his crude telescope and believed what he saw with his own eyes. The method of science (or wisdom, as Appleyard called it) that existed before Galileo was different in many ways from what ruled after 1609. “Its foundation was neither observation nor experiment, but authority understood through reason.” But from that time onward, “a new and unprecedentedly effective form of knowledge and way of doing things appeared.”

This science inspired a version of the universe, of the world and of man that was utterly opposed to all preceding versions. Most importantly, it denied man the possibility of finding an ultimate meaning and purpose for his life within the facts of the world. If there were such things as meanings and purposes, they must exist outside the universe describable by science.”

Francis Schaeffer called this the birth of “modern, modern science.” And he believed this was a radically different way of doing science than what Bacon and Galileo did. A necessary presumption for any scientific endeavor is the uniformity of natural causes. Early scientists like Bacon and Galileo saw this existing within the open system of nature, where God could and did have a sustaining influence on His creation. Christians were free to pursue science and maintain their belief in a Creator God who was still active within His creation.

But within modern, modern science, this unity of natural causes exists within a closed system of nature. There cannot be any intervention from forces or influences outside of nature. Science necessarily is done within the assumed closed system of nature. If it isn’t, then it is not science. In Escape From Reason, Schaeffer said:

That little phrase [the uniformity of natural causes within a closed system] makes all the difference in the world. It makes the difference between natural science and a science that is rooted in naturalistic philosophy.

So science as it is widely practiced today, what Schaeffer called modern, modern science, begins with a philosophical assumption that excludes the potential influence of a creative God, or a creative force. I think this is one reason why scientists today are so antagonistic towards Intelligent Design Theory. To them it feels and looks like cheating; an undermining of this basic philosophical foundation of the modern scientific method. Any attempt to accommodate the discoveries within the Book of God’s Works with the Book of God’s Word, as in the “two book” theory, is not legitimate science. Modern, modern science is autonomous from God.

So when interpreting Genesis 1, it matters which view of science you bring to the process. Is it the open system of nature within the two books theory, or the closed system of modern, modern science? If nature is open to God’s interventions, was it designed to exist independent or autonomous from God after creation, like a giant watch with God as the Watchmaker; or is creation sustained by a Creator? If creation is not independent of its Creator, can a study of creation tell us something about its Creator? Can knowledge of the works of God inform us about the Word of God? Will knowledge of the watch tell us anything about the Watchmaker? Is that knowledge independent, complementary and accommodating, or in conflict to what the Bible reveals to us about God and His creation? And if in conflict, does that mean that biblical religion and science are at war with each other?

In “Origins and Creation” I looked at several different ways to understand the Genesis account of creation. The categories were drawn from the web lectures and writings of Denis Lamoureux, an Evolutionary Creationist. The categories were: Young Earth Creation (YEC), Progressive Creation (PC), Evolutionary Creation (EC), Deistic Evolution (DE) and Atheistic Evolution (AE). Look at “Origins and Creation” for more information on how these views of creation differ from each other. Drawing on the above discussion, we can then suggest views of origins have the following relationships between nature and science, creation and God, and the interaction of knowledge found within science and the Bible:

Creation Origins

Nature as an Open or Closed System

Relationship of Creation to God

Interaction of Knowledge in Science & the Bible

YEC

Open

Creation is sustained by God

Accommodation conflict/war

PC

 

Open

Creation is sustained by God

Some accommodation; Some conflict

EC

Open

Creation is sustained by God

Complementary &

no conflict

DE

Open at first

Creation is autonomous of God

Some relationship

No interaction

AE

Closed

Creation is autonomous of God

No relationship

conflict/war

It’s not enough to select which of the three creation positions available to a conservative Christian (YEC, PC and EC) appeals to you. Each of the three positions carries interpretive decisions with regard to Scripture and with regard to science that have to be made. The views you hold with regard to the interaction of science and Scripture, nature and the Bible, influence your views on creation. They influence how you interpret both Genesis 1 and the other passages of Scripture. Modern knowledge of the works of God is not autonomous from the Word of God. So when God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning, how do you think He did it?

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

06/3/16

Origins and Creation

© David Carillet | 123rf.com

© David Carillet | 123rf.com

Believers in the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience” take different stands on how the Genesis account of creation should be interpreted. Despite the claims of some Young Earth Creationists, there is not only one single legitimate Christian position on what is meant in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” A related, but overlapping concern in understanding the Genesis account of creation is how the creation days in Genesis 1 should be understood. Six sequential 24-hour periods of time, marked by evenings and mornings, is the 24-hour view. Or are the “days” six sequential periods of time or ages, without a specification for a length of time. This is called the day-age view. While understanding the six days of is an important issue in its own right, here I want to focus on the creation perspectives available to believers in the authority of Scripture.

Two of the primary scientific origins issues here are the age of the “heavens and earth” (the earth and universe) and whether life was created by evolution. I think it can be helpful to think about the various positions on how to interpret the Genesis account of creation as summarized here. This is a brief description of several interpretations of Genesis discussed by Deborah and Loran Haarsma in their book, Origins.

Denis Lamoureux, has several web lectures available on a range of topics from the Evolutionary Creation (EC) perspective. One series, “Beyond the ‘Evolution’ vs. ‘Creation’ Debate,” is an introduction to the various views on origins, both Christian and non-Christian. His personal story is one of the lectures, describing his journey from Young Earth Creationism to Evolutionary Creationism while achieving advanced degrees in theology and biology. The fifth lecture, “Summary and Conclusions,” has a helpful overview of the various perspectives on creation. It also highlights the similarities and differences between Christian and nonChristians views on creation.

There is a helpful handout for Lamoureux’s lecture series, “Beyond the ‘Evolution’ vs. ‘Creation’ Debate,” that summarizes and compares various Christian and non-Christian views on the origin of life and the universe. These range from Young Earth Creationism (YEC), which allows little or no accommodation for interpreting the creation account of Genesis with the findings of science. At the opposite pole is Atheistic Evolution (AE), which rejects the creation account in Genesis as pure myth and allows no possible accommodation with its view of science. I’ll follow Lamoureux’s categories in the discussion that follows. You can also find an overview of several positions on creation here from the Evolutionary Creation website, BioLogos. Deborah Haarsma is the current president of BioLogos.

Young Earth Creationism (YEC) holds to a 24-hour view of the six creation days, but also claims that a faithful reading of Scripture dates the age of the earth to between 6,000 and 10,000 years old. Old Earth Creationism (OEC) holds that the scientific evidence for a greater age of the earth (4.6 billion years) and the universe (13.7 billion years) is strong. So it sees the days of creation in Genesis 1 referring to long periods of time. The day-age view of creation days fits with the OEC perspective in what Lamoureux called Progressive Creation (PC). These three perspectives all reject the possibility that God created life through the process of macroevolution.

Then there is Intelligent Design (ID). It has been consistently ridiculed by modern day science as a “God of the gaps” argument that deceitfully tries to sneak theology into the scientific method. ID believes that: “the existence of an intelligent cause of the universe and of the development of life is a testable scientific hypothesis.” According to William Dembski ID is three things. First, it is a scientific research program investigating the effects of intelligent causes. Second, it is an intellectual movement that “challenges Darwinism and its naturalistic legacy.” And third, it is a way to understand divine action. In Intelligent Design, Dembski said:

The universe provides a well-defined causal backdrop (physicists these days think of it as a field characterized by field equations). Although one can ask whether that causal backdrop is itself designed, one can as well ask whether events and objects occurring within that backdrop are designed.

I think Lamoureux rightly positioned ID within his Progressive Creation category. But if weakened in its Christian presuppositions, such as the possibility of an intelligent (personal?) designer, the search for design in nature will easily fit within one of his non-Christian categories on origins, Deistic Evolution. Some books supporting ID include The Design Inference and Intelligent Design by William Dembski and Darwin’s Black Box by Michael Behe. If you want to read something that refutes the idea of design in the universe, there is the Richard Dawkins book, The Blind Watchmaker. Dawkins believes in Atheistic Evolution.

Evolutionary Creation (EC) affirms that God is the Creator of all things, including humans made in his image. But it accepts the science of evolution “as the best description for how God brought about the diversity of life on earth.” So the days of creation in Genesis are not literal 24-hours days and they do not necessarily occur in a sequence of time. According to Lamoureux’s comparison, EC differs from YEC and Progressive Creation positions by accepting macro-evolution, having a completely indirect sense of God’s activity in the origins of the universe, life, and humanity as well as denying a literal interpretation of Genesis 1 through 11 with regard to creation and the Flood. Francis Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is a proponent of evolutionary creation. In his book, The Language of God, Collins said: “Believers would be well advised to look carefully at the overwhelming weight of scientific data supporting this view of the relatedness of all living things [evolution], including ourselves.”

Lamoureux then noted two non-Christian perspectives on origins, Deistic Evolution and Atheistic or Dysteleogical Evolution. “Dysteleology” is a philosophical view holding that there is no telos or final cause for the origin of the universe or life.  Seeing a plan or purpose in creation is a delusion. There is no evidence of design or a Designer. Blind chance working in natural process resulted in the existence of the Earth and life on it. The anthropic principle doesn’t point to the possibility of design in creation. God is a delusion. Some modern advocates here would include Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett.

Deistic Evolution (DE) agrees there is evidence of design within creation, but denies that God is personally involved within His creation. Either a Designer or a Force could have resulted in the kind of universe that we live in. Whether or not there is a personal God as the Designer is irrelevant. “God never enters the world.” Intriguingly, Lamoureux categorizes Charles Darwin as DE.

Although advocates of ID such as Michael Behe, Phillip Johnson, and William Dembski are Christians, and infer “an intelligent cause” behind the evidence of design in the universe, such an interpretation is not necessary to search for design in nature. Stripped of its Christian leanings, some ID beliefs could fit within Deistic Evolution. Consider the idea of the anthropic principle.

If you begin with the premise of a personal Designer behind the origins of the universe, you can see evidence of design almost everywhere you look. Hugh Ross, in his book The Creator and the Chaos, noted there were more than two-dozen parameters in the universe that necessarily had to fall into “narrowly defined ranges for life of any kind to exist.” The Privileged Planet by Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay Richards builds on the anthropic principle to show that not only is our planet amazingly fitted to support life, but that it also gives us “the best view of the universe.” It is as if the heavens and earth were designed for both life and scientific discovery. Show Me God by Fred Heeren examines “What the Message from Space Is Telling Us About God.” The Privileged Planet is also available as a DVD for purchase and to watch through Netflix.

But the anthropic principle doesn’t have to lead you inevitably to a belief in a personal Designer. There is the weak anthropic principle (WAP) which observes the parameters noted by Ross, Gonzalez, Richards and other ID advocates must be set as they are, “or we wouldn’t be here.” In other words, human existence puts us within a coincidentally “privileged time and place.” Fred Heeren said:

In a universe that is sufficiently large, the right conditions for life might occur in certain times and certain rare regions. Thus an intelligent observer should not be surprised if he finds himself in a time and place where the conditions are just right for his existence.

A so-called strong anthropic principle (SAP) holds that these “right conditions” are to be expected if we can in fact observe them. As Gonzalez and Richards said: “We can expect to find ourselves in a universe compatible with our existence.” There are even stronger versions of the anthropic principle, namely the Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP), which holds we created ourselves by observing ourselves. The Final Anthropic Principle (FAP) suggests humankind itself might be the intelligence behind the design evident in the universe. Holding a somewhat science fiction-like sense of some day conquering time’s one-way arrow, humans evolve into all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent gods. “Having amassed such powers, this evolved god may then be able to create in the past.”

So if we look at the various ways to understand the Genesis account of creation as existing on a continuum, we have the following progression: Young Earth Creation, Progressive Creation, Evolutionary Creation, Deistic Evolution and Atheistic Evolution. Young Earth Creation has little or no accommodation with science where it may intersect with Scripture, while Atheistic Evolution sees the Genesis creation as pure myth with no evidence of science. Progressive Creation (including OEC and day-age theorists), Evolutionary Creationists and Deistic Evolution are progressively more accommodating to science. This follows the presentation and discussion of the views on origins given by Denis Lamoureux in his web lectures.

Young Earth Creation (YEC), Progressive Creation (PC), and Evolutionary Creation (EC) are all legitimate perspectives for believers in the authority of the Bible “as the only rule of faith and obedience.” Evolutionary Creation accepts God’s use of macro-evolution as the manner in which He created the heavens and the earth through what Lamoureux described as indirect, but “ordained and sustained natural processes.” That is, God planned and upheld the creation of the heavens and the earth and the life within it, but did so through natural processes like evolution. Evolution here is theological not naturalistic—in God’s hands, it was part of His plan and purpose—and not due to chance or chaos. Both YEC and PC reject the idea that God used macro-evolution in His creation of the heavens and earth.

Young Earth Creation sees God directly involved in creation; and believes He created all things within the timeframe of six 24-hours days. The earth and universe are only 6,000 to 10,000 years-old. YEC also asserts that chapters six through nine of Genesis describe a global flood. OEC sees the six days of creation as sequential, but not six sequential 24-hour days. The “days” could even represent long periods of time, as in the day-age view. The universe is 10-15 billion years old and developed through an indirect ordained and sustained natural process. But not so for the different kinds of life, which were directly created by God; possibly over billions of years of time. OEC holds the Flood narrative in Genesis to describe a local flood, not a global flood.

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”

05/24/16

Why is the Sky Blue?

© Pakhnyuschchyy | stockfresh.com

© Pakhnyuschchyy | stockfresh.com

Some biblical scholars hold that Genesis 1 either used the Babylonian creation myth, the Enuma elish, or was generally dependent upon it and other Mesopotamian traditions. Drawing on the work of Alexander Heidel in Babylonian Genesis, we find both parallels and differences between the Enuma elish and Genesis 1. Ultimately Heidel felt that the differences were far too great and the similarities far too insignificant. “In my estimation, no incontrovertible evidence can for the present be produced for either side.” Poetically, he said: “the resemblances fade away almost like the stars before the sun.” However, some of the similarities are striking.

In the Enuma elish, we find a story of how the earth came to be. In the beginning there was only the divine parents—Apsu and Tiamat—and their son, Mummu (Remember, this was ancient Babylon. Maybe Mummu was a popular name back then). Apsu was the primeval sweet-water ocean and Tiamat was the primeval salt-water ocean. Mummu was the mist rising from the two bodies of water and hovering over them. When Apsu and Tiamat comingled their waters, they gave birth to Lahmu and Lahamu, two silt deposits who eventually formed land. The three types of water were mingled together, forming an undefined mass in which were all the elements from which the universe was later made. But as yet, there was no heaven or earth.

In time, Apsu and Tiamat had more children, Anshar and Kishar. Together they had a son named Anu, who was the sky-god. Anu’s son was Ea, who became the god of the subterranean sweet-waters, the god of magic and eventually the mastermind of all the divinities. “He had no rival among his fellow-gods.” The younger gods were noisy and loud, disturbing the older gods, Apsu and Tiamat. When peaceful attempts to quiet them failed, Apsu determined to destroy them. But Ea through the power of the spoken word of a magic spell put Apsu to sleep. He then took Apsu’s royal tiara and supernatural radiance for himself and killed Apsu, the father of all the gods. Ea then established a spacious place for himself and all the remaining gods to live, calling that place “Apsu.”

So far, there is no real parallel between the two accounts, but we now come to the time of Marduk the son of Ea and “the wisest of the gods.” Tiamat resented the death of her consort, and sought revenge against the other gods for killing Apsu. So she decided to revolt against the other gods, but was defeated in battle by Marduk. He divided her body in two forming the universe, “with one half he formed the sky, with the other he fashioned the earth.”

 Next, he created stations in the sky for the great gods; he organized the calendar, by setting up stellar constellations to determine by their rising and setting the year, the months, and the days; he built gates in the east and in the west for the sun to enter and depart; in the very center of the sky he fixed the zenith; he caused the moon to shine and entrusted the night to her.

The story continues with a discussion of the further creation acts of Marduk. They have some similarity to the biblical account in Genesis as seen in this chart reproduced from the Babylonian Genesis. Note that in both accounts, light is created before the luminaries. But even in what follows, there is not complete correspondence. In fact, “the differences far outweigh the similarities.”

Enuma elish

Genesis

Divine spirit and cosmic matter are coexistent and coeternal

The divine spirit creates cosmic matter and exists independently of it

There is primeval chaos; Tiamat is enveloped in darkness

The earth is a desolate waste, with darkness covering the deep.

Light emanated from the gods

 

Light is created

The creation of the firmament

The firmament is created

The creation of dry land

 

Dry land is created

The creation of the luminaries

The luminaries are created

The creation of humanity

Humanity is created

The gods rest and celebrate

God rests and sanctifies the seventh day

If Genesis 1:1-2:3 really was influenced by Enuma elish, then it is reasonably certain that at least the following elements go back to the Babylonian epic: (1) part of the outline; (2) the conceptions of an immense primeval body of water containing the component parts of the earth; (3) the idea of the primeval waters; and (4) the existence of light before the luminaries.

There were also parallels with other Near Eastern cultures and their own creation stories as well. The Egyptians and the Phoenicians referred to a watery chaos in their cosmologies. There was primeval darkness within the cosmologies of the Greeks and the Phoenicians. However, in his commentary on Genesis 1-15, Gordon Wenham seems to capture the right view. He said the known links of the Hebrew patriarchs with Mesopotamia and the other areas of the Near East make it improbable that the writers of Genesis were completely ignorant of Babylonian and other similar creation stories.

Most likely they were conscious of a number of accounts of creation current in the Near East of their day, and Gen 1 is a deliberate statement of the Hebrew view of creation over against rival views. It is not merely a demythologization of oriental creation myths, whether Babylonian or Egyptian; rather it is a polemical repudiation of such myths.

Drawing on Scripture and Cosmology by Kyle Greenwood, Brad Kramer elaborated on the similarities between Hebrew and other Near Eastern cosmologies. The people of the biblical world assumed that rather than what we think of as “outer space”, there was a universally-wide cosmic ocean. For them this was an entirely rational belief based upon everyday observation and intuition. Why was the sky blue? Where did rain come from? “Ancient people figured that the sky was blue because there was a giant cosmic ocean high above the earth.” And rain came in through the windows and doors of a heavenly dome.

It was a nearly universal belief in biblical times that the sky was a solid structure, serving as a barrier for the upper waters. Aligned with the common experience of finding water deep in the ground, “The ancients conceived of the earth arising out of primordial waters, called the cosmic ocean…the earth was thought to be surrounded by these cosmic waters.” So the ancient Hebrew understanding of the universe looked something like the following:

Hebrew conception of the universe

Biblical evidence for this ancient cosmology exists within Genesis 1 itself. Genesis 1:6 through 9, covering the second day and part of the third day of creation, described how God created an expanse or firmament (rāqîaʿ) in the midst of the waters. This firmament separated the waters above and below. This firmament was thought to be a beaten metal plate or bow; a gigantic heavenly dome. Kramer concluded:

These verses only make sense if the whole universe is filled with water. The picture here is God blowing a bubble of habitable space in the middle of the cosmic sea and placing a barrier to keep the waters from crashing down onto earth. Interestingly, the heavenly bodies (sun, moon, and stars) are “set…in the dome” (1:17), under the “waters above”, rather than above them. So again, the picture is of cosmic waters encircling the entire universe, including stars and planets (which ancients assumed were attached to the solid dome). Greenwood concludes: “As was the case with ancient Israel’s neighbors, the land mass they called earth was thought to be surrounded by water—east and west, above and below.”

Further Biblical evidence that the Hebrews seemed to have a three-tiered cosmology of the universe, with the earth situated in the middle between the heaven above and the deep beneath can be found in passages such as: Genesis 49:25, Deuteronomy 33:13, and Psalm 135:6. This three-tiered cosmology continued even into the early days of the church. To give but one example, in The Literal Meaning of Genesis, which Augustine wrote in 416 AD, he discussed why he thought the “star” Saturn was actually cold and not hot, as others speculated.

Indubitably, therefore, what makes it cold is the nearness of those waters set in places above the heavens, which these people refuse to believe who argue in the way I have summarized about the movement of the sky and the constellations. It is by drawing such inferences that some of our people meet those who refuse to believe there are any waters above the heavens and still insist on the coldness of that star whose circuit is nearest to the highest heaven.

For Christians with a modern scientific worldview such a cosmology is nonsensical. So they tend to import (sometimes unconsciously) the criteria of modern scientific accuracy into their reading of Genesis 1. This adds an “artificial middleman” to its interpretation. Attempting to combine an ancient cosmology with a modern scientific one will ultimately render both incoherent or out of focus at some point. And if we are attempting to convince a modern, science-minded person of the truth and authority of the Bible, “Do we really want an apologetic in which the truth of the Bible depends on the accuracy of scientific beliefs of ancient cultures?”

For more articles on creation in the Bible, see the link “Genesis & Creation.”